published: 9 /
In 'Raging Pages' Lisa Torem finds that Chicago-based author Renee Rosen captures the ghosts of music past with her informative and lively novel, 'Windy City Blues', based on Chess Record legacy and an interracial couple.
Renee Rosen’s 'Windy City Blues' is a multi-layered novel set in 1950's and 1960's South Side Chicago. A seasoned author, Rosen interweaves solid reportage with prose. One early aspect of the story addresses the phenomenon of “race records” (a genre which preceded “R &B”) and how its production deliberately kept apart white and black audiences. Enter Leonard and Phil Chess, two brothers from Poland, who decide to record legions of young, black artists: Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Etta James, etc. to promote their recordings and entice a larger group of admirers with their lively, original roots arrangements.
Rosen’s passion and precision in terms of character development and place bleed through every passage. One very central character, Leeba, comes from an observant Jewish family. They want her to marry within her culture and find it threatening when she develops a strong attraction to shy Red Dupree, an African-American, electric guitarist on the rise.
Of the two, Leeba is the more naïve. The couple face constant discrimination on the streets of the windy city, and although they accept their fate for a time, things change as Dupree meets with civil rights advocates and the couple throw their anger and energies into the flourishing movement of the times,
Rosen is the queen of suspense, along the way. She cleverly foreshadows the couple’s steamy relationship many times before it actually takes shape. She does a wonderful job describing Leeba’s self-destructive, silk-voiced friend, who develops a heartbreaking crush on the meandering Muddy Waters.
The dialogue, especially where Leonard Chess is involved, is consistently believable and, at times, hilarious. We see clearly the stress that the mogul is under; his wife shames him for never being home and being an absentee father. There are often returns on the records, which drain his financial resources. And, based on fact, Chess makes some naïve business decisions about subject matter, which almost cause him major ruin.
Rosen’s leading couple contend with poverty, infertility, loneliness and unexpected abandonment, yet they learn constantly from each other and from their intrepid peers. There are no weak characters in 'Windy City Blues'.